February 2012

Southern Baptists mull whether ‘Southern’ still fits

February 17 2012 by Roy Hoffman, Religion News Service

FAIRHOPE, Ala. – For Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fairhope, being Southern Baptist is a defining aspect of life.
He embraces the denomination’s conservative social values, extols its evangelism – “We reach out to people instead of waiting for them to come to us” – and identifies with its name.
“I grew up under the traditional name of Southern Baptist Convention,” said Henry, a native of Selma, Ala.
But Henry, 67, acknowledges the realities of a changing America, and wonders if his denomination must change with it – at least its name.
“Being Southern Baptist isn’t a problem in Fairhope, Alabama,” he said. “It’s a proud thing.” But in other parts of the country, he says, it might turn people away.
“If we were to say the Yankee Baptist Church here,” he said, “that would be a real turnoff.”
On Monday (Feb. 20), Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright is expected to give his recommendation on a possible name change to the denomination’s top leaders. That recommendation is likely to be debated at the Southern Baptists’ annual convention in June in New Orleans.
For a denomination that has used the same name for nearly 170 years, a change is an involved process. First, there has to be the will to do so. And on that, the jury is still out.
“My first response is, I don’t want to change it, the Lord has blessed us in every way,” Henry said. “But I’m willing to look at it to see if we do need to change it.”
Adds Jay Cook, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pascagoula, Miss.: “Our prime objective is to do what Jesus Christ called us to do – to share the gospel. If a name is hindering that, we need to consider it strongly.”
Formed in 1845 when Baptists split into Northern and Southern branches over slavery and other issues, the Southern branch kept its name, while Northern Baptists eventually became the American Baptist Churches USA.
The slavery issue, Cook said, has long been addressed in the denomination’s history. “Southern Baptists have stated unequivocally that we are sorry for any role we played in any way with slavery. It was abhorrent.”
In fact, a widely respected New Orleans pastor, Fred Luter, is the odds-on favorite to be elected this summer as the first African-American president of the SBC.
Yet Cook is proud of another strand of the denomination’s history.
“There’s a lot of meaning in the name. Southern Baptists have a rich heritage of mission work in the U.S. and internationally.”
There are more than 16 million Southern Baptists in the U.S., and Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, said the name question has come up before. For 70 years, Southern Baptists have been more than just a regional body, he said.
“What’s happening,” Terry said, “is that two years ago a decision was made that we would try and have a major church planting effort in underserved areas of the U.S., largely outside of the traditional South.”
Is the term Southern Baptist, Terry asked, “a brand name, or a regional description? Does Southern convey an expectation of theological concerns?”
“That’s part of the debate,” he said.
Stuart Davidson, pastor of Eastern Shore Baptist Church in Daphne, Ala., said a change might be beneficial in the short term, but in the long term, “We need men and women, boys and girls, to live and act like Jesus.”
“We don’t have a name problem, we have a Jesus problem. The reason people are running from churches in general is because Christians are not acting like Christ,” he said.
Davidson says 85 percent of Southern Baptist churches are stagnant in their membership, or declining. “That’s a heavy statistic,” he said.
LifeWay Christian Resources, the Baptist-affiliated publisher and retailer, polled 4,000 people outside of the South and found that 44 percent had negative views of Southern Baptists.
Too often, he said, “Southern Baptists are known for what they’re against rather than for.”
Ed Litton, pastor of First Baptist North Mobile, has a strong conviction that a new era has come because too often “the term ‘Southern’ alienates people.”
“I’m for a name change. I think it’s a burden,” Litton said. “We’re part of planting churches in New York City and out West. I don’t look to a name change to be anything of a game changer. Baptists need a heart change.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hoffman writes for the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala. Adelle M. Banks contributed to this report.)
2/17/2012 2:25:32 PM by Roy Hoffman, Religion News Service | with 2 comments

LifeWay trustees vote to continue selling ’11 NIV

February 17 2012 by Marty King, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources voted to continue selling the new NIV Bible in LifeWay stores, approved a new vice president for its largest division and elected new board officers.

Meeting Feb. 13-14 at LifeWay offices in downtown Nashville, trustees heard a report from a special task force appointed to follow up on a non-binding resolution approved by the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention that requested LifeWay consider not selling the New International Version (NIV) 2011 Bible in their stores.
Committee chairman Adam Greenway, a member of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky., told the board “vast amounts of scholarly research and other relevant information was gathered and studied … and a number of subject matter experts addressed the task force.”

Greenway said LifeWay received support for continuing to carry the 2011 NIV from R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jimmy Draper, former president of LifeWay; George Guthrie, professor of Bible at Union University; and Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation, which translated the new NIV.

President Thom Rainer listens to trustees at the spring trustee meeting.

Greenway, who serves as senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary, also told trustees, “Messengers to the 2011 SBC annual meeting were encouraged to vote for the resolution based on incorrect information.” As an example, Greenway said the 2011 NIV contains no gender-neutral wording for the names of God. The 2011 NIV, Greenway said, “follows translation methodologies that are embraced by the overwhelming majority of Bible translators in the world.”

“It is not that we are endorsing the 2011 NIV,” Greenway said. “We endorse what we publish, and the translation we publish is the Holman Christian Standard Bible. That is the translation that we endorse.” Greenway told trustees, “We do not believe the 2011 NIV rises to the level to where it should be pulled or censored or not carried in our retail chain.”

The task force and the trustee executive committee both unanimously approved the following recommendation: It is recommended that trustees reaffirm the decision of LifeWay to continue to carry the 2011 NIV alongside other versions of the Holy Bible.

After a few minutes of discussion, the motion was unanimously approved by trustees.

Greenway said many of the differences between the 2011 NIV and the 1984 NIV involved such changes as “brothers” to “brothers and sisters.” One example is Luke 17:3, which the 2011 NIV renders, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”

Greenway did address 1 Timothy 2:12, which has been the most-discussed passage among 2011 NIV critics. The 2011 NIV rendered it, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” The 1984 NIV translated it “have authority.” The verse, some said, takes sides in the debate over female pastors by allowing a female pastor to say, “I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.”

The committee did examine the passage closely, Greenway said.

“The issue comes down to the Greek, and very conservative inerrantists, Greek scholars [on the Committee on Bible Translation], believe that the more literal translation of the Greek there is the word ‘assume,’ and it is left to the interpretative community to understand what ‘assume’ means,” Greenway said. “Is that a change from some renderings of the past? Yes. But again, our issue should not be merely to maintain traditional translations; it should be to always more fully get to the accuracy and intention of what God originally inspired through those who penned the scripture.”

Greenway added, “We are not giving a stamp of approval. ... We are simply saying from a retail perspective, we do not believe that we should cease carrying and make available to the public the 2011 NIV.”

Several “highly respected conservative” scholars have endorsed the 2011 NIV, Greenway said, among them: Darrell Bock, William Mounce, Rod Decker, Daniel Wallace, Timothy George and Tremper Longman. The MacArthur Study Bible – with notes by John MacArthur – also will be available in the 2011 NIV in 2013.

In other news, trustees unanimously elected Eric Geiger as the new vice president of the organization’s church resources division (CRD) which produces a vast array of discipleship materials and training events for Bible studies, Vacation Bible School, leadership development, music and worship, and the family.

Geiger comes to LifeWay from Miami, where he served nine years as executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami. During that time, the church grew from a weekend attendance of 1,200 to nearly 8,000 and was recognized as one of the fastest growing churches in America.

Geiger co-wrote the book “Simple Church” with LifeWay president Thom S. Rainer who said he was drawn to Geiger to lead CRD because of his passion for the local church. “Eric Geiger is sold out to the bride of Christ,” Rainer said.

That commitment was evident as Geiger shared his testimony with trustees.

“In the end, the church will endure, not LifeWay,” he said. “I want our people to wake up every morning and think about how best to serve the bride of Christ, not about LifeWay. We do not exist for ourselves, but to serve the churches.”

During his president’s report, Rainer said the state of LifeWay is healthy.

“We are living in a negative time, when our churches are struggling, killing a child in the womb is morally acceptable, and, the American family is under attack,” he said. “But instead of lamenting the times, we should focus on the Source of our strength in the midst of this urgency.”

“The state of LifeWay is healthy, and I don’t know any place I’d rather be than here because we have opportunity to make more of a difference in this time of urgency than perhaps at any time in our nation’s history,” he said. “God has placed us here for such a time as this.”

Rainer said while other Christian publishers no longer exist, “LifeWay continues to move forward by making tough decisions, because if we keep doing the things we have been doing, we will not see the future God has for us.”

Rainer cited several examples of new initiatives and tough decisions including the growing partnership with Sherwood Pictures, producer of the “Courageous” movie; the new curriculum called The Gospel Project that goes deeper into Biblical text and is already being piloted by 2,000 churches; and, LifeWay’s decision to withdraw from a relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure because of Komen’s relationship to Planned Parenthood.

Ending that relationship “was the right thing to do,” Rainer said, “even though we may sustain financial losses because of it. I regret the losses, but not the decision. As a result, people know they can trust LifeWay to take a biblical stand.”

Rainer said several options are being reviewed for use of the special pink Bibles that were removed from store shelves earlier this year because they promised a donation to Komen for every Bible sold. He assured trustees the Bibles would be used to bring comfort to those suffering through breast cancer, not destroyed.

In other business, LifeWay trustees:

– Elected new board officers including Greenway as chairman; Mark Dance, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, Conway, Ark., as vice chairman; and, Rick Geist, a financial advisor and member of First Baptist Church, Seminole, Okla., as recording secretary.

– Approved a report from the board’s audit committee that showed an “unqualified opinion or clean audit” from Ernst & Young accounting firm.

– Discussed and approved responses to eight motions referred to LifeWay by the Southern Baptist Convention during last summer’s meeting. The responses will be reported to the 2012 SBC in New Orleans, June 19-20.

– Heard reports from each of the organization’s vice presidents regarding progress and plans for ministry advance.

– Recognized seven retiring trustees who are ending their board service.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marty King is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)

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2/17/2012 2:19:57 PM by Marty King, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New LifeWay VP champions churches

February 17 2012 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Eric Geiger wants to help pastors become heroes.

“My dream is that we would bless and serve church leaders so well, they will become heroes within their area of ministry and influence,” said Geiger, newly appointed vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources’ church resources division.

LifeWay trustees formally approved Geiger during their semiannual meeting Feb. 13-14 at LifeWay’s home office in Nashville.
Prior to coming to LifeWay, Geiger, 36, served eight years as executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami, a church that grew from 1,200 to 8,000 in attendance under Geiger’s leadership as an organizational architect.

Eric Geiger, newly installed vice president of church resources, illustrates his vision for the future.

“Making the transition from church leadership to LifeWay is both difficult and exciting,” Geiger admitted. “Anyone who has served in a healthy church setting knows how difficult it is to leave. It is a special environment.

“But at the same time, it’s exciting to think about serving churches on such a broad level,” he said. “We’re seeing a change at LifeWay as we move from an organization into more of a movement that serves churches really well.”

LifeWay’s church resources division develops strategies, products, programs and services that help churches disciple people of all ages. This assignment is addressed by providing resources in Bible study, worship, children and student ministries, and total church health and growth.

Since coming to LifeWay, Geiger said he has “been blown away by the incredible level of intelligence, breadth and depth of skill in specialized disciplines among our team. We have content editors who are just geniuses. We have people in publishing who understand theology, the church and business all wrapped up together – that’s a very unique skill-set.”

Geiger said his vision for the division hinges on the actual name of the church resources division.

“We are going to more passionately embrace what being the church resources division means,” he said. “We exist for the church. The church does not exist for us. And it is a high honor and privilege to serve and provide resources for the church. And it’s significant that we are a division – a part of the whole of LifeWay. We aren’t the church resources organization.”

Even though LifeWay has a rich history of providing transformational products, Geiger said his desire is to become more of a “church focused” division that “better listens to churches, knows churches and designs products and services for churches.”

“This will mean listening on a macro level – being aware of how the Lord is moving in churches as a whole and hearing their needs,” he said.

“Listening at the micro level would be equipping churches by helping them craft and create what would best help them in their individual context of ministry,” he said. “In the near future I envision CRD coming alongside churches to create things that specifically align with what is going on in the teaching ministry of that church.”

To be successful in this vision, Geiger said organizational adjustments and streamlining must happen to allow space for new initiatives and to allow for better speed and agility in responding to the needs of the church.

“The tension for me is seeing a division that has been in decline, knowing we need to make changes but also knowing we will be unable to fully feel the impact of those changes for a while,” Geiger said.

“Revenue, to me, is an indicator of the number of churches we serve and the degree to which we serve them,” Geiger said. “This is just like revenue in a church representing the number of people we served and the degree to which the Lord was moving in their heart to lead them to be generous.

“When I served at Christ Fellowship, we didn’t simply want more and more people who were just tipping God, but rather who gave out of a deep connection,” he said. “At LifeWay, I don’t want to have more and more unless it is a byproduct of serving the church well.”

Geiger said he is confident in the future, to a large degree because of the focus, talent and ministry conviction found within the division and across LifeWay.

“I want to get to a point where pastors and church leaders see LifeWay not merely as a provider of materials and products they ‘should’ use,” Geiger said. “I want us to reach a point where they are thanking God that LifeWay is meeting this need because it equips them and frees them up to focus on their ministry.

“I want pastors to have the assurance that whatever is before them in their ministry context – whether it be leadership development or more time in sermon prep – we are stepping in and serving them well and adding deep value to their church,” Geiger said.

Geiger earned a doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and is the author or co-author of several books, including “Simple Church,” a best-selling book on church leadership. He and his wife, Kaye, have two daughters, Eden and Evie.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin is LifeWay’s manager of editorial services.)

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2/17/2012 2:13:02 PM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NYC churches get court win, can meet at least 2 more weeks

February 17 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – A federal judge has intervened on behalf of New York churches, issuing a temporary restraining order that allows them to continue meeting for worship in public schools while the court deliberates over the constitutionality of the city’s ban.
Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the stay, which is in effect for 10 days, because the churches “demonstrated irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the merits of their Free Exercise and Establishment Clause claims.”

Pastors in the city applauded the news, which apparently will give them at least two more Sundays in public schools.

“This is definitely an answer to prayer, and we look forward to future stories of victory with this situation,” Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church in Staten Island, N.Y., told Baptist Press.

“What’s going to happen now is that this stay gives churches the ability to be there on Sunday and the 10-day period will give the judge more time to render a more long-term decision that will help churches. It’s extremely positive.

“It shows that there are lawmakers and judges that believe in the Constitution and the founders and framers of our country, and it’s just exciting to see that there are people who still want to uphold these truths. So I’m really happy about it,” Parascando said.

The ban on churches using public schools was issued by the New York City Department of Education, which cited a need to protect the minds of “impressionable youth.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban last year, and the Supreme Court declined to act on the case.
The latest legal round involves different First Amendment claims than were examined by the appeals court, says the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is representing the churches. Specifically, ADF is arguing that the city’s policy amounts to hostility toward churches, a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. The Second Circuit’s ruling was based on an examination of the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses, not the Free Exercise Clause.

“[The NYC law] prohibits conduct undertaken for religious reasons,” ADF argued in its motion before Preska. “... The effect of the Department’s policy is to target religious practices.”

Crossroads, a Southern Baptist congregation which met in Public School 52 for more than four years, held what it thought would be its last worship service in that location Feb. 12, joining about 60 churches – mostly evangelical congregations – in being evicted from meeting space they rented from the city’s schools.

Politicians were present at Crossroads’ Feb. 12 service to show support, and Parascando said that means there are public officials who believe the ban is unconstitutional.

Crossroads had applied for a permit with the school system to hold a community farewell gathering this coming Sunday instead of a worship service, but the church was told any permit they requested would be highly scrutinized. Now, because of the judge’s intervention, they can meet freely for at least two more Sundays.

No matter what the court ultimately decides, Crossroads has plans to move to an abandoned movie theater at some point because they believe that’s where God is leading. So the restraining order is not necessarily as vital for them as it is for other churches that have nowhere else to go, Parascando said.

“It’s for the future effort of church planting,” he told BP. “Renting schools is a very affordable option and a good start for churches. So this isn’t just about right now. This is about the future of church planting in New York.

“This isn’t just about Feb. 19, although this is a victory and this preserves our opportunity to keep fighting,” Parascando said. “This is for the greater purpose of the Kingdom because renting schools is good for church planting, and most importantly, it gives us a great opportunity as churches to reach the community.”

Despite the intensity of the debate over churches meeting in schools, Parascando said it’s important to keep the issue in perspective.

“I’ve been encouraging other pastors that this isn’t like we’re against the school board or we’re against the mayor. God holds all of this stuff in His hands anyway,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to maintain a spirit of perseverance and stand up for what is right, and at the same time still love these people because in the end God’s will is going to be done. God’s in control, not the mayor or anybody else. Ultimately that’s got to be our focus.”

The Alliance Defense Fund sought the order earlier this month to stop the evictions.

“Churches help communities; evicting churches hurts communities. Empty buildings offer nothing to communities that need hope,” said ADF senior counsel Jordan Lorence, who argued before the court.

“The court’s order is a message of hope for fundamental freedoms in New York City because it means that, for the time being, the city must welcome churches as it does other groups. ADF will continue to fight this battle relentlessly until the city no longer unconstitutionally prohibits activity for purely religious reasons.”

Legislation to override the New York City Department of Education’s ban on churches meeting in public schools appeared stalled in the state Assembly after the state Senate approved a measure 55-7. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, has not indicated he will schedule a vote, but Sen. Martin Golden, who introduced the Senate bill, reportedly said the bill has a good chance of passing the Assembly if the members are allowed to vote on it.

In response to the judge issuing a stay, New York City Council Member Fernando Cabrera said, “Now that the courts have spoken up on the side of fairness, I call on the New York State Legislature and Speaker Sheldon Silver to move forward with bills that would rapidly solve this issue.

“This court order is a fantastic victory and will calm the 60-plus congregations that were frantically searching for space. I commend the U.S. District Court for ruling justly,” Cabrera, who introduced a resolution in support of churches at the city council, said.

Preska was nominated by President George H.W. Bush.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/17/2012 2:09:55 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New Orleans pastor to get SBC leader nomination

February 16 2012 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by David E. Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.
“Fred has been among Southern Baptists for more than 20 years as a pastor. He has taken a church that was at death’s door to the largest worshipping congregation in the state of Louisiana among Southern Baptists,” Crosby said.
“He has been a great evangelist and has baptized thousands of people through these years of ministry.”
Luter, the SBC’s current first vice president, told his congregation Jan. 29 he is willing to be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Crosby cited Luter’s diligence and determination as a pastor, Bible expositor, evangelist and spiritual leader as characteristics that qualify him to lead Southern Baptists.

Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Luter’s family life – his love for his wife Elizabeth, and his two children, Kimberly and Fred “Chip” III – is a model for Southern Baptist ministers, Crosby said.
The fact that Luter is African American would make his election a historic moment for Southern Baptists, Crosby said.
“Our election of Fred Luter as the first African American president of the SBC will send a great, hopeful, powerful message to our city, our culture, our convention and our country,” Crosby said in an interview. “For many, it will make them rethink who Southern Baptists are, and it will help us reach the new diversity that we find in our cities.
“For Southern Baptists to elect Fred Luter heralds a new era of inclusion – of working together in our diversity,” Crosby continued. “It is a statement that people of all ethnic groups make up the Southern Baptist Convention and are honored.”
Luter, who often calls himself a “street preacher from the Lower Ninth Ward,” has made a significant mark on Southern Baptist life. A popular preacher at conferences and seminaries across the country, Luter became the first African American to preach the keynote sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001. At last year’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Luter became the first African American to serve as the convention’s first vice president.
Known for boldness in proclaiming the Bible, Luter is a native New Orleanian who became pastor of Franklin Avenue in 1986 at a time when the church was fading as its surrounding neighborhoods were in transition. Under his leadership the church was given fresh life. Membership grew to around 5,000 and each Sunday the church draws nearly 7,000 worshippers.
Deeply involved in Southern Baptist life, Luter has served in leadership roles on the local, state and national level. The New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA) and the Louisiana Baptist Convention have tapped him for numerous leadership positions, and he served as a member of the committee that worked on the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
“Fred Luter’s support of our local association is stellar,” Crosby said. “We could not do what we do without him or Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.”
Crosby commended Luter for his pastoral leadership following Hurricane Katrina. Franklin Avenue’s building was inundated with water and most of the church’s members were displaced, but Luter’s commitment to the congregation never wavered.
“Fred returned to New Orleans to continue his ministry even though I am confident he could have moved on to other places and pulpits,” Crosby said.
“But his heart was drawn here and he demonstrated the faithfulness of a pastor who cares for his flock.
“He met with his people who had evacuated to other places and he wanted to start meeting with his congregation here in New Orleans, but the building took on seven feet of water. There was no part of the facility that was able to be used,” Crosby said.
Crosby offered space at First Baptist. Franklin Avenue met there for worship at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday for nearly two and a half years. During that time, the two congregations grew close and began to participate in ministry together. The churches joined together for men’s ministry, the women’s Bible studies and Vacation Bible School. Though Franklin Avenue moved back to its restored facility in April 2008, the two pastors and their congregations remain close.
“We are still doing some of those things together,” Crosby said. The men’s and women’s groups from both churches still gather for prayer, fellowship and Bible study. Franklin Avenue also is involved in First Baptist’s efforts to reach the Songhai people in Accra, Ghana.
“Fred and I have grown to love each other. I have a great respect for him as a man of God and expositor of the Word of God to his people,” Crosby said. “I think Fred Luter is a great example of evangelism, family life, pastoral care and leadership and we need him now.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, a longtime co-laborer with Luter in New Orleans, affirmed Crosby’s nomination of Luter.
“Slice off any aspect of a pastor’s work, and Fred Luter does it well,” Kelley said. “Look at him as a leader, and his work in the aftermath of Katrina is the stuff of legend. Check his calendar and you will find him active at every level of SBC life, including the grunt work of committee meetings no one even knows he attends. Invite him to preach and everyone will remember him and want him back. He is as Southern Baptist as Southern Baptist gets.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

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2/16/2012 1:57:20 PM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Luter shares vision for SBC if elected

February 16 2012 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Two weeks into a church-wide 21-day session of prayer and fasting, Fred Luter came to the conclusion that God wanted him to allow his nomination for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) presidency.
After 30 years as a follower of Jesus Christ and 25 years as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Luter said he became convinced that God had brought him to such a juncture in his Christian life.
“I wanted to make sure this was not something I was doing out of the flesh, something I was doing out just of popularity, notoriety,” Luter said. “I wanted it to be of God. I prayed about it, and my wife – her relationship with God is just one I truly admire and respect – was praying for me, and others in the church.

“It was last Friday, [Jan. 27] the week before the fast was ended. My wife and I were talking and I said, ‘Baby, I think God wants me to do this,’ and the only thing she asked me was, ‘Are you sure?’ It was really clear to me this is what God was leading me to do.”
Baptist Press (BP) spoke with Luter about his reasons for allowing his name to be placed in nomination, about his leadership of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, and about his thoughts on the Southern Baptist Convention. The following questions and answers are adapted from the interview.
Q: Did any special word from the Lord confirm this?
A: A passage of Scripture that my wife shared with me from Isaiah 66 and verse 2 really spoke to me about this situation. ‘Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’ And I said ‘wow.’ And she said, ‘That’s you, sir; that’s you, Fred.’ That’s the one. She gave me that from the Lord and when I read it I said, ‘Wow, that’s a blessing.’

Q: If you are elected, what do you envision as your key emphases or key messages to Southern Baptists? What do you see as the greatest challenge to the SBC in the short-term?

File photo by Norm Miller

Fred Luter, aboard a helicopter after Hurricane Katrina, points to the flood-ravaged Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans where he is pastor.

A: This convention has been one of the top conventions in the world as far as our primary mission of evangelism and discipleship. My goal and vision is that we would get back to being that convention we’re known for. Through the years we’ve kind of gone off-track with some things and that has allowed us to not make evangelism and discipleship our main focus. My prayer is just that we get going back in the right direction, depending on God to help us fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. That’s what He’s called us to do and that’s what I hope to lead this convention to do during my time as our president.

Q: Even with just your nomination, what message do you hope it sends to the SBC and to the nation?
A: The thing I hope it sends to the SBC is that if you’re faithful to God and faithful to God’s Word, that God will be faithful to you. That’s what’s happened here. I’m from the Lower Ninth Ward, and Mom and Dad were divorced when I was a kid. But through the 30-some years I’ve been a believer and the 25 years I’ve been a pastor, I have been faithful to God, faithful to the Word of God, and faithful to my wife.
I just believe God has allowed this [nomination] to happen for such a time as this. It is nothing I was looking for. It was not on my bucket list, so to speak, but I think God ordained this because of the fact that what we’re dealing with right now through the convention is trying to make the convention diverse.
I think this will speak not only to our convention but to our country and throughout the world that this convention is serious about reaching all people.

Q: Since news broke at last year’s meeting that you would consider allowing your nomination as SBC president, what comments by fellow SBC leaders and by friends have been most significant or most encouraging to you?

A: They’ve been saying, ‘Fred, it’s time. Many of them feel God has just raised me up for this time to speak not only a message of the Word of God to our convention, but to the folk who are not part of our convention about the direction this convention wants to go as far as reaching all peoples. I think this will say to a lot of young preachers across America who are Asian, African American, Hispanic that hey, this convention is not just saying this. They’re putting their money to their mouth. This convention is truly open to all people.

Q: Describe the rise in awareness of you by SBC leaders. How did it come to pass that you preached the annual sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001 when it was last in New Orleans?

A: It happened as a result of our baptism record. We started growing as a church and as a result leading our association in baptisms, and from there our Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC). Wayne Jenkins [LBC evangelism director] called one year in the early 1990s. I didn’t know him when he called, but I will never forget it. He said Franklin Avenue was first in the state in baptisms and he’d like me to come up and receive an award at the evangelism conference, ‘and I’d like you to preach,’ he said. After that, Wayne would give my name to different ones and before you know it I would be preaching at different evangelism conferences and state conventions across the country.

Q: Did you always sense God had such things in store for you, or did all this ‘just happen?’

A: I think all of this just kind of happened. I had no idea. I’d never pastored before, never preached before. I’ve been faithful to God, faithful to the Word of God, faithful to my wife, faithful to my church and I believe God rewards faithfulness. Why me out of all the thousands and thousands of preachers in this city and state and nation? I just believe it’s not because I’ve accomplished so much; I just believe it’s because of the faithfulness of God, and that He has honored me because of my faithfulness.

Q: How did you learn to be faithful? How did you become faithful?

A: When God saved me He drastically saved me. When I got saved and gave my life to the Lord, it was such an impact on my life that I wanted to share this with everybody I knew. That’s how I started doing street ministry in the Lower Ninth Ward. I wanted all my partners and friends to get saved and to know the Jesus that I knew and how, if God could change my life, God could change their life, and because I was out there on the street corners, out there in front of people, I knew I had to do more than just talk the talk. I had to walk the walk.
I would have to be faithful. When you’re in the ‘hood, people know when you’re fake. Then when I came to the church, I said, ‘God, if You can do this in my life, I figure You can do this in the life of this church.’ That’s why I wasn’t really concerned when they told me the history of the church: dying, on its last leg. I said, ‘If God could resurrect my life, He could resurrect the life of this church.’ So I went there just being faithful to God, faithful to preaching and teaching and living His Word.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and a correspondent for Baptist Press.)

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2/16/2012 1:52:51 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NYC pastor fears ‘agenda’ against churches

February 16 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – New York’s ban on churches meeting in public schools, which went into effect Feb. 12, is about “far more than meeting space,” according to a Southern Baptist pastor in the area who believes broader religious freedom is at stake.
“More and more, this just smells like there’s an agenda. My concern – and this is why I’m asking for people in our denominational world to be praying about this – I think this is just the beginning of what they want to do to the religious freedoms of churches in New York,” Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Staten Island, N.Y., told Baptist Press.

Crossroads, which met in Public School 52 for more than four years, held its last worship service in that location Sunday, joining about 60 churches – mostly evangelical congregations – in being evicted from meeting space they rented from the city’s schools.

“Yesterday’s service was emotional because we’ve invested the last four and a half years of our church there in terms of meeting, and we don’t really want to leave but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. It was definitely emotional, but a good emotional.

“We believe God is sovereign over these things,” Parascando said. “It was emotional in the sense of saying goodbye to the school, but we’re still going to care for the students and do the things that we’ve been doing to care for the school.”

Crossroads members were upset not so much that they were being pushed out of the space but “concerned that the mayor and the city of New York are discriminating against churches,” the pastor said.

“You’ve got to be angry over the things that God would be angry about, and you’ve got to be angry for what is right. People had righteous indignation, like this needs to change because it’s unfair and it’s abusing our freedom of religion.”

Beginning Sunday, Crossroads Church will no longer be able to meet in Public School 52, seen here. The church is trying to rent a theater, but it will cost at least $6,000 more a month.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, Crossroads hopes to meet again at the school, but not for a worship service because they’re not allowed. They’ve asked the school system for permission to meet for a community farewell gathering in which they’ll mark their time there and Parascando will share information about the church’s future. The meeting would conclude with a brunch, he said.

After that, Crossroads hopes to meet in an abandoned movie theater at a cost of $6,500 more per month than they were paying at the school. But they’re sort of in a bind because the schools have kicked them out and they don’t yet have the city’s approval to meet in the space they plan to rent.

“We’re still waiting on the public assembly permit with the city to be finalized,” Parascando told BP.

Not only is the new meeting space much more expensive, it lacks appropriate accommodations for the church’s children’s ministry. The pastor said they’ll have to be creative in order to make it work.

Meanwhile, legislation to override the New York City Department of Education’s ban on churches meeting in public schools appears stalled after the state Senate approved a measure 55-7 two weeks ago. A bill has been introduced in the Assembly, but Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, has not indicated he will schedule a vote.

Parascando said he spoke with Sen. Martin Golden, who introduced the Senate bill, shortly before speaking with Baptist Press, and Golden said the bill has a good chance of passing the Assembly if the members are allowed to vote on it.

If the bill could pass the Assembly, it still would have to go before Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Parascando was not optimistic that the governor would sign the legislation.

Parascando believes the eviction from public schools is part of a broader attack on religious freedom in New York. He mentioned that three homosexual students spoke against a resolution supporting the churches at a recent city council meeting.

“It had no relevance because their argument was churches ultimately discriminate against gay people because we don’t marry them,” Parascando said. “First of all, nobody wants to get married in a school, I don’t think. It’s ridiculous. Secondly, it’s our right if we want to choose not to marry a gay couple.

“Now what they’re doing is saying it’s a violation of the separation of church and state if we’re allowed to meet in the school, and then they want to bring gay kids in and say the church discriminates because we won’t marry gay people,” Parascando said. “But that’s our choice. So if they’re going to mandate that we marry gay people, then that’s a violation of the separation of church and state. You can’t have it both ways.”

A day is coming, Parascando said, when churches will be required to act against their beliefs.

“That’s where this is going. I’m not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow, but when bans like this pass, it shows that the abuse of power will go to any length,” Parascando said. “That’s what concerns me as a pastor and that’s what should concern every Christian, and we should be praying against this. It’s far more than meeting space.

“God is sovereign, but He wants us praying. There’s no doubt about it. Every prayer helps.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/16/2012 1:41:31 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wash. gay ‘marriage’ bill signed; ballot looms

February 16 2012 by Baptist Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a gay “marriage” bill Feb. 13, hoping to see the state become the seventh to allow gays to “wed” but also knowing that a signature drive could put the issue on the November ballot.
The law is scheduled to take effect June 7, but it won’t go into effect at all if churches and traditional groups are successful in collecting 121,000 valid signatures by June 6 opposing the law – and then getting voters to side with them in November.

The Washington state House approved it, 55-43, the Senate, 28-21. Democrats control both chambers. Gregoire also is a Democrat.

Washington is one of several states that allow citizens to gather signatures to reject laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Traditional groups say the law threatens religious liberty.

“We ARE going to exercise our right to referendum and reject this law,” an email from the Family Policy Institute of Washington said even before Gregoire signed it.

Christine Gregoire

Washington traditionalists hope to copy what church groups in Maine did in 2009, when the governor signed a gay “marriage” bill, only to see voters reject it, 53-47 percent.

“Ultimately the people will decide on marriage [in Washington],” Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, previously told Baptist Press. “And in 31 out of 31 states, they’ve voted not to redefine marriage, and we don’t expect that Washington will be any different.”

It figures to be a busy year nationwide in the political and legal struggle over marriage’s definition:

– In Maine, gay activists apparently have collected enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot that would legalize gay “marriage.”

– In New Jersey, the state Senate passed a bill by a vote of 24-16 Monday (Feb. 13) that would legalize gay “marriage,” sending it to the Assembly. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has said he would veto it.

– In Maryland, a gay “marriage” bill could be debated on the floor of the legislature in coming weeks. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley supports it, but, like Washington state, citizens could gather signatures to reject the law.

– In North Carolina (May 8) and Minnesota (November), citizens will vote on constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Gay “marriage” is legal in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Iowa. It also is legal in the District of Columbia.

Based on history, a ballot vote on gay “marriage” in Washington likely will be close. In 2009, a far less controversial law dealing with gay domestic partnerships survived at the ballot, but it was closer than people thought it would be. By a 53-47 percent margin, voters retained the law granting gay couples all the legal benefits of marriage, without the name. Supporters made clear then that the law was simply a stepping stone to gay “marriage.”

If the initiative does qualify for the ballot, traditionalists likely will spotlight two themes that have proven successful in other states: 1) children need mothers and fathers and 2) legalizing gay “marriage” will have negative consequences on religious freedoms and what is taught in elementary schools.

In Massachusetts – where marriage has been redefined – a second-grade class read a book, “King & King,” about a prince who “marries” another prince.

In Vermont, where gay “marriage” is legal, the ACLU sued a bed and breakfast after it declined to host a same-sex “wedding” reception. Illinois saw a similar lawsuit, when a male couple filed a discrimination suit against two bed and breakfasts that refused to host their civil union ceremony.

“The purpose [of marriage] is a recognition of the fact that children come from heterosexual sex and that we want to unite the parents of those children to each other and parents to their children as often as possible,” Backholm said. “The purpose of marriage is to create the greatest likelihood that children will be raised by their mother and father.”

Despite what supporters of gay “marriage” argue, mothers and fathers are not “interchangeable and replaceable,” Backholm said.
2/16/2012 1:36:49 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. churches share Lottie Moon offering updates

February 15 2012 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Although the focus on missions giving is beginning to turn toward North America with the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, many North Carolina Baptist churches are sharing their 2011 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering results.
While each church has their own approach – year-round giving, fundraisers or a big push in December – the focus on helping the gospel reach the ends of the earth remains the same. The offering supports the work of nearly 5,000 IMB (International Mission Board) missionaries overseas. The national goal for the 2011 Lottie Moon offering is $175 million.
Top-giving contenders
Last year, 18 of North Carolina’s Baptist churches ranked in the Top 200 for the 2010 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Some of those top-giving churches shared their results for the 2011 offering. Those reports included: Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, $504,855; Parkwood Baptist Church, Gastonia, $289,986.06; Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Boone, $235,798.26; Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, $132,200; Green Street Baptist Church, High Point, $121,300; First Baptist Church, Cary, $115,314.83; Hendersonville Baptist Church, Hendersonville, $108,000; First Baptist Church, Durham, $107,974.70; and First Baptist Church, Charlotte, $100,000.
One year’s support
Other churches around the state also shared their offering results and their passion for international missions.  
In early December Scott Davis, pastor of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord, presented an IMB (International Mission Board) chart to the congregation. The chart showed that the average dollar amount it takes to support one IMB missionary family each year is about $48,000.
Davis encouraged the congregation to keep that amount in mind as they gave their 2011 offering. Because of economic challenges in the community, Davis said the church decided to keep their goal at $35,000, which was the goal for 2010. But he encouraged them to give above the $39,497 raised the year before.
“We’ve had missionaries ready to go, but they [couldn’t] because of a lack of funds,” Davis told his congregation that averages around 720 in worship each week. “These are not the days to be drawing back. The needs of the world have never been greater.”
 At press time, the church had raised $49,572.85, which is more than enough to support one family.
‘The best plan’
Brushy Fork Baptist Church in North Vilas – that averages about 130 people in worship – shattered their goal of $4,000 by raising $8,500 for international missions. The past two years the church has given an average of $1,500.
Pastor Toby Oliver credits the results partly to “heavily publicizing” the offering. They also invited an IMB couple, serving in Hungary, to share about their overseas work.
“We saw the impact that [the offering] makes across the world and what we can do to spread the gospel,” said Oliver, a bi-vocational pastor who also works in insurance. He became the church’s pastor in August of 2011. “I believe the Southern Baptist Convention has the best plan to give to missions,” he said.
Godwin Heights Baptist Church in Lumberton – another similarly sized congregation of about 160 people – gave $10,300, which is $300 over their goal.
Center Road Baptist Church of Bladenboro – a church of about 100 people – beat their goal of $6,300 by giving $9,903.
The cost of ministry
It’s this support that helps ministry efforts around the globe. Every penny given to the offering is used to support IMB missionaries.
For example, one Southern Baptist worker in a European city, shared how the offering supports his work at a refugee center that feeds people both physically and spiritually. About 500 refugees visit the center each week.
According to IMB figures, rent for the center is $1,840 per month. A bag of groceries provided to refugees is $7. Each hot meal costs less than a $1. A complete Bible in the local language is a little more than $16. The Lottie Moon offering helps make all of this possible.
For more examples go to imb.org/main/give/lmw/. To learn more about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Moore, editorial aide for the Biblical Recorder, and figures from imb.org contributed to this story.)
2/15/2012 2:40:19 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists ‘ramp up’ efforts to help wheelchair bound

February 15 2012 by BR Staff

For many Americans who are confined to a wheelchair, simply leaving their homes can be a daunting task. Without a wheelchair ramp it can be nearly impossible.
North Carolina Baptist church groups and other volunteer teams will have an opportunity April 28 to help those with this need.
For the first time N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) will join forces with Operation Inasmuch and N.C. Baptist Men to promote a one-day event, called Rampin’ Up! The effort focuses on volunteers building wheelchair ramps for homes throughout the state.   
“This is an example of Baptists at their very best … when they work together,” said Sandy Gregory, director of NCBAM. “There are many seniors trapped in their homes because they cannot get down one or two steps.”
For years N.C. Baptist Men have built wheelchair ramps around the state, but keeping up with the demand hasn’t been easy.
“I average one or two requests a week for ramps,” said Gaylon Moss, who directs disaster relief efforts and volunteerism for N.C. Baptist Men.
“It’s a great way for North Carolina Baptist churches to impact others for Christ by providing a legitimate need.”
Right now NCBAM, has a list of 50 people who have requested wheelchair ramps. Coordinators with Rampin’ Up!, however, encourage groups to find other individuals in their community who need a wheelchair ramp.
Volunteers needed
Moss and Gregory, along with other event coordinators, hope to see more than 300 ramps built during the one-day event. Right now there are about 20 teams signed up.
Coordinators encourage groups to hold fundraising events to raise money for needed supplies. Building one ramp can run between $1,000 and $1,500. One decking board is about $8.
Suggestions for fundraising include: bake sales, car washes and youth service auctions that feature babysitting, house cleaning, yard work, or groups can host a special dinner event. Other ideas include holding a 5k fun run and walk or other special tournament events that involve games such as bowling.
Those who sign up online before April 1 will have an opportunity to win one of four $750 awards for ramp supplies. Those who sign up by March 1 will have two opportunities to win. The drawing will be held April 2.
How to get involved
To find out more information about how a church group or ministry can get involved with Rampin’ Up! go to rampinup.org or ncoperationinasmuch.org. Call NCBAM at (877) 506-2226. For more information about NCBAM and the services and opportunities they offer for individuals 65 years old and up call or go to ncbam.org.
2/15/2012 2:33:57 PM by BR Staff | with 1 comments

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